Editor's Note: Fantastic Four: True Story #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, July 30.
"The Melancholy of Susan Richards"
Matthew J. Brady: 3.5 Bullets
Christopher Power: 2.5 Bullets
Matthew J. Brady 3.5 Bullets
Having the Fantastic Four interact with the worlds of fiction seems like an obvious idea, since so much of the appeal of their adventures has to do with imagination, but to my knowledge, nobody has done that sort of story before, outside of the occasional metafictional encounters with the creators of Marvel Comics. But it's a concept rich with opportunity, allowing for a rich field of thousands of possible characters which could end up meeting, battling, or teaming up with the heroes.
Paul Cornell (writer of the current Captain Britain and MI:13 series) sets up the idea here, but outside of the final-page cliffhanger, he doesn't do a lot with the concept, at least not yet. Instead, this first issue is dedicated to introducing the concept of a nebulous threat to the worlds of fiction which subtly causes people all over the world to stop reading, somehow making them afraid to do so, no matter how much they enjoy a good book. Sue Richards, the Invisible Woman, is the one who realizes this, after she begins to experience depression and feel withdrawn (oh, those moody, emotional women!). When she realizes what is going on, Reed Richards, her Fantastic husband, whips up a device that will allow the team to propel themselves into the "shared experience of all human fiction" (kind of like Alan Moore's Ideaspace/Materia/Blazing World), with the help of Willie Lumpkin, since he's the most well-read person they know. Once there, they encounter Dante, who will act as their guide to what he calls "the skein," and they head on in to see what awaits them.
It's a decent setup, and there could certainly be some interesting stuff ahead, but some aspects of the book appear worrisome. Cornell's dialogue is often awkward and kind of difficult to follow, especially during Reed and Sue's discussion of her depression. And like many writers who approach a forty-year-old property, he seems to want to cloak the book in irony, rather than accept the goofy concept and have fun with it; this gives us jokes like Reed's love of the movie Josie and the Pussycats, or Willie Lumpkin explaining to Johnny that his frequent requests to join the team were a running gag. But he also does some stuff that's pretty clever, like a scene in which Sue is contemplating her bookshelf while a typical spat between Ben and Johnny taking place outside the door produces word balloons filled with generic text like "<
Horacio Domingues' art is also kind of a mixed bag, but ultimately ends up being a positive for the book, if only because it's fairly unique in the world of superheroics. He draws in more of a crude (at least compared to someone like Bryan Hitch or John Cassaday), indie sort of style, reminiscent of Rick Geary, with thick lines and simple shading that might look better in black and white rather than the standard Marvel coloring (the computerized flames on the Human Torch are an especially poor embellishment). This style ends up delivering some awkward facial expressions (to match the dialogue), and while there is at least one scene where the panel-to-panel action doesn't really make sense (the FF's imagination-ship is seen floating by itself while a loud "BRAMMM" fills the panel, but a subsequent panel shows it having collided with a large rock), an early action scene against a monster is a lot of fun, with nice, funny background details, and the image of the world of fiction as a tangled strip of images is a pretty cool one, especially when it is covered with some sort of nasty black substance representing the as-yet-undefined threat.
So it's an interesting, if still imperfect, beginning, with a definite potential for quality to come. Cornell only has a short track record with Marvel, but buzz on him is generally positive, so even though there are some reservations, hopefully he'll be able to deliver a solid, enjoyable, unique adventure. And if he throws in some metafictional existential angst, more the better.
Christopher Power: 2.5 Bullets
There is a fine art to self-referential comedy. Lenny Bruce was a master of it, as was his contemporary, the late George Carlin. The Simpsons are possibly the best example of self-referential wit within an illustrated/animated art, and writers/producers of it perfected the frequency and timing of that form of comedy during that show's golden age. Within the comic genre, there are a few writers who have been able to pull off the wink at the fourth wall and actually make the reader integrate it into the story. Peter David was notorious for it in She-Hulk, for just one example.
I was willing to give Paul Cornell a chance to pull off that feeling of awareness, like a lucid dream, within the pages of a comic book. In the first few pages Cornell seemed to set a good pace, with the odd comment of self-awareness from the characters. While some of these worked, such as statement of "Behold" by Reed a la Stan Lee, the statements gradually became more and more distracting. After a while, they were no longer clever, they were irritating.
Part of this was to establish a feel of the characters actually entering into a world of fiction. While I do not mind some of the exposition to set up the idea of the Fantastic Four entering a world of fiction, Cornell spent way too much time explaining what was happening in the story and not actually telling the story. When Dante appeared, there was no pretense of story any more. All of the cleverness of mimicking the idea of the characters being in a book within a book was lost, as Cornell spells out every tiny nuance for the audience, leaving nothing interesting within the idea. Unfortunately, because of this, the story suffers and the plot points feel stilted and unconnected because there is not enough of a story to hold the scenes together.
The art in the book is good, with most of the anatomy being correct even if I do not like the style. That being said, the art is very fitting for the book and the story it is trying to tell. There are moments where the art has a tendency to drift within its style, such as the people on the street not looking like the Fantastic Four.
Overall, the book is okay, but there are just too many stumbles for me to recommend picking it up before the trade paperback comes out for this one.
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